5th July 2016
AUSTIN, Texas — Exceedingly well-preserved bird fossil specimens dating back 50 million years represent a species of a previously unknown relative of the modern-day ostrich, according to new research from Virginia Tech and The University of Texas at Austin published June 30 in theBulletin of the American Museum of Natural History.
“This spectacular specimen could be a ‘keystone’ that helps interpret much of the sparse fossil (record) of birds that once lived in North America millions of years ago,” said lead author Sterling Nesbitt of Virginia Tech’s Department of Geosciences and the Global Change Center.
The bird fossils were found more than a decade ago, completely intact with bones, feathers and soft tissues in a former lake bed in Wyoming. The new species has been named Calciavis grandei – with “calci” meaning “hard/stone,” “avis” from the Latin for bird, and “grandei” in honor of famed paleontologist Lance Grande.
Nesbitt called the fossils a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for paleontologists.
“This is among one of the earliest well represented bird species after the age of large dinosaurs,” he said.
Some of the fossils are now on display as part of the exhibit “Dinosaurs Among Us” at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. Other specimens used in the study are from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago and the Wyoming Geological Survey.
Nesbitt began studying the fossil in 2009 as a postdoctoral researcher at The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences, under Professor Julia Clarke in the Department of Geological Sciences. Clarke is a co-author on the research.
Two fossils of Calciavis grandei dating from the Eocene epoch – roughly between 56 million and 30 million years ago – were found by fossil diggers within the Green River Formation in Wyoming, a hot bed for extinct fish.